Archive for the 'Research' Category

What is it about Vikings?

Why do we love Vikings? Why are Viking–themed festivals, parties and superheroes so successful? Why are we almost as familiar with the Viking gods as we are with the Greek pantheon?

What is it about Vikings?IMG_3279

Is it the swords? The beards? The dragon-prowed longships? The helmets? (No horns please, if you want to be historically accurate.)

Or is it the stories?

I think it’s the stories.

I think Viking myths and legends contain some of the best, most exciting, most vivid, most original plots in the whole world of stories. (For example, Viking gods can die. That’s higher stakes than any Greek myth!)

I love Norse and Viking stories. I tell them as often as I can. Two of my favourite stories to tell to a hall full of 10 year olds are myths about the Viking gods: the story of Fenrir the world-destroying wolf, and the story of the sun god Baldur. I also love telling the stories of when Thor met the Midgard serpent, and when Ragnar Lodbrok met a pet dragon… I love Norse stories!

But I don’t just tell them out loud. I’ve written down some of my favourites in collections of myths and legends: Ragnar and Baldur both appear in Winter’s Tales. The Viking warrior Hervor and her cursed sword appear in Girls Goddesses and Giants. Loki gets into trouble in my shapeshifters collection Serpents & Werewolves.

Viking stories inspire my own fiction too. The entire plot of my final Fabled Beasts adventure, Maze Running, was inspired by one small moment in Baldur’s story.

So, I’ve been playing with, being inspired by, and retelling Viking stories for years.

But I haven’t done a whole book about Vikings before. Until now! Here it is, The Dragon’s Hoard:


Isn’t it lovely?

And here’s how I finally got round to writing a book about Vikings:

I was chatting to Cate James, who illustrated the gorgeous collection of Scottish stories Breaking the Spell, when we were both appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival three years ago. We were keen to work together again, so we started brainstorming ideas. We came up with quite a few fun ideas (I hope they will all happen eventually!) One of our favourites was inspired by the fact that I had written a ‘Vikings invading Scotland’ story for Breaking the Spell, but it hadn’t made it into the final book (partly because it was a bit violent, but mainly because it was historical not magical so didn’t really fit with the other stories.)IMG_3295

I’d found that particular story, about the Earl of Orkney fighting a duel with the chief of Moray, in the Orkneyinga saga. The saga tale has the invading earl as the hero, but because I’m from Moray, I’ve always told it to kids from the other point of view, with the Moray warriors as heroes.

So I mentioned to Cate, over a cup of tea in Wigtown, that I was fairly sure there must be other excellent stories in the sagas, some of which might even be suitable for children. And it turns out that men with swords and scary monsters are two of Cate’s favourite things to draw, so we decided that I would look for a few more interesting saga tales, then we’d pitch the idea to our Breaking The Spell editor.

And I found SO MANY BRILLIANT STORES! Most of which I had never come across, even though I’ve been a fan of Norse and Viking stories for years.IMG_3304

When I put together a list of saga stories about swan warriors, dragons, riddles, saints, explorers, polar bears and zombies, the editor said YES!

So I spent months researching the Viking sagas to find the strongest stories, and Cate did lots of research into clothing, buildings, ships, weapons and helmets. (No horns!)

I found dozens of wonderful stories. Some of which were just too gory, bloody, vicious, nasty and revenge-driven for me to want to tell them to 10 year olds. (Or even my teenage daughters.) But there were still so many fantastic stories that I was really keen to tell.

Then I told them to classes (usually when I was doing author events about other books – I’m a bit sneaky that way) to find out which stories most intrigued and excited them.IMG_3274

Then I wrote the stories, and Cate drew the pictures, and now the book is ready! (That’s a short sentence, covering a lot of hard work…)

So, I’m really happy with our collection of Viking sagas. The book opens with a dragon and finishes with riddles, and there are Vikings on every page in between. What more could you want?

So, I’ve finally done a Viking book. But I don’t think I’ve got Vikings out of my system yet. I’m sure there are lots more Viking stories for me to discover and to share with you.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of The Dragon’s Hoard, and I’m really looking forward to sharing these Viking saga stories with lots of young Viking fans!

PS – I should just say, this way of working – with me and Cate coming up with the idea together, pitching it together and working together – is VERY RARE. Normally I never even meet the artists who illustrate my words. But I like this way of doing it!


Archive for the 'Research' Category

We’re all going on a kelpie hunt…

A new book!  With a new monster! kelpie

My first book of 2016 has just been published!  The Secret of the Kelpie is a picture book retelling the story of the Scottish kelpie – the shape-shifting, child-eating water-horse.

I did the research and wrote the words, and the fiendishly talented Philip Longson did the gorgeous scary illustrations.

The Secret of the Kelpie is about a family who meet a beautiful horse by the side of a loch and realise too late that the horse is a kelpie who plans to drag them into the water, to drown them and eat them… So the littlest sister Flora has to discover the kelpie’s secret and try to save her big brothers and sisters.

SoK huge and hungryI had to do lots of research to find out about the kelpie’s powers and the kelpie’s secret. And I found out that there are lots of different kelpie stories from lots of different parts of Scotland, and that kelpies in different places are different colours (white, gold, black…) and like to eat different people (children, fishermen, young women, married couples…) I discovered that some kelpies like their home comforts (one kidnapped a stone mason to build him a fireplace), that some kelpies are good at building themselves (there are bridges and churches and mills apparently built by kelpies), that some kelpies can grow bigger to fit more children on their backs and that some kelpies can be defeated by… actually, that’s a secret.

I was surprised to discover that not all kelpie stories are set by remote lochs in the Highland and Islands.  There are great kelpie stories from the east too – from Angus and Aberdeenshire for example.

But now I had far too much kelpie research for one picture book.  (Writers often end up with far more research than we need, unless we want our book to be a list, rather than a story.) But luckily, the research I did has also resulted in a MAP so that you can go on a kelpie hunt too!Banner-SecretKelpieMap

My lovely publishers Floris have created an interactive map so that you can see all the locations in Scotland where kelpie stories are told, and click on the horse’s head in any location to read a snippet of the kelpie lore from that place.

So, why not find out about the kelpies nearest you, and see if you can go on a kelpie hunt during the Easter holidays or some weekend?

But if you meet a beautiful horse, be VERY VERY careful…

PS – But I have another even more exciting use for all my kelpie research, because one of the main characters in the Spellchasers trilogy (see previous blog post) is a kelpie, with a few different powers, and lots of different secrets! But you’ll have to wait til August to find out about him…


Archive for the 'Research' Category

The Toad Gait Scandal, and other last minute hiccups

I will be submitting the final draft of the first novel in my new trilogy to my editor next week. (And no, sorry, I can’t tell you the title. My publishers are going to reveal that in a burst of glitter and glory sometime soon…)

So I’ve spent this week doing some fairly odd last minute things to the book. The story is written. The words are all there. Now I’m catching daft mistakes, by double checking things I assumed were right when I wrote the first draft, and meant to check, but never quite got round to. And sometimes my assumptions are wrong.

For example, at the start of this week I found myself embroiled in:

The Toad Gait Scandal

One of the five main characters in this adventure is a toad. So I was checking whether toads inflate their throats when croaking (they do) when I noticed a tiny little line on a toad website about toads walking rather hopping. Which was a shock, because when I started writing this book, I assumed toads were basically warty frogs, and because I know frogs hop, I assumed toads hopped too. So in this book, my toad hops, leaps and jumps quite a lot. But at the time I noticed this awkward little line, I was dealing with croaks and throats. So I made a wee note to myself: ‘better check if toads really do walk rather than hop’

The next day, I saw the note and I thought, right, this will either take me 30 seconds or all day. If I find out that toads hop, there will be no changes required. But if I find out that toads don’t hop, I will have to go through the entire novel, all 60,000 words of it, and find every time this amphibian moves, then change the verb. And also possibly the whole page. Or whole chapter…

Because that’s the thing. Changing one word can unbalance or undermine a whole sentence, or a whole paragraph, or a whole scene. Writing a novel is like weaving a piece of fabric. If you pull on one thread, it can warp the pattern and create holes right across the loom. (And with a trilogy, it’s three times as complex…)

So, I took a deep breath, and googled how toads move.

And you can guess what happened. On several reputable wildlife and amphibian websites, I discovered that, even though frogs hop, toads walk. Yes. Go and look it up. They sort of crawl, in a sprawly fashion.


Here’s a toad I met at Jupiter Artland when I was writing the first draft. (In a wonderful cave made of purple crystals.) This toad was very helpful about posing for a photo, but didn’t move around enough for me to realise that TOADS DON’T HOP!

So, one quick assumption I made years ago about how toads move, from my basic (basically wrong…) general knowledge about frogs and toads, resulted in a whole day’s work this week.

Hence, the Toad Gait Scandal.

Other things I’ve checked this week:
Do hares make a noise when they are scared?
Do pike eat eels?
What size is a crow’s egg?
How long are the October school holidays in various council areas?
When were the prime witch-burning years in Scotland?
What’s the best way to dig up tatties?
Does ‘law’ mean ‘hill’ in Doric as well as in Scots?
None of them resulted in nearly so many changes as the Toad Gait Scandal, because most of my assumptions were correct…

But there was one other double check which resulted in even more than a day’s work, because it affected all three books of the trilogy. I had to double check a hare’s field of vision. I knew it would be wide, but I hadn’t realised how wide. It turns out that hares can see almost the whole 360 degrees around them, with just small blindspots to the front and back. Which makes them very hard to sneak up on, and meant I had to rewrite almost all my chase scenes.

Perhaps I have a blindspot about wildlife research?
Perhaps I shouldn’t jump (or indeed hop) to so many conclusions about animals without checking my facts?
Perhaps I should leave the puns alone? (Though calling that frustrating day’s work the Toad Gait Scandal did make me smile…)

So, that’s the fact checking done. Now I just need to have one more readthrough for silly typos, then the book will be ready for my editor next week. Which is very exciting. But even more exciting is that in a few months, the book will be ready for YOU!

Archive for the 'Research' Category

Is writing a book just like telling a big lie?

The best question I’ve been asked by a young reader at a book signing this year:

“Is writing a book just like telling a big lie?”

I answered, “YES! Yes it is! It’s fantastic! And you completely get away with it, because you’ve ADMITTED you’re telling a big lie! Because that’s what ‘once upon a time’ means…”

“Making stuff up is lying,” I said cheerfully, “and I’m quite open and clear and delighted about that! So yes, writing a book is exactly like telling a big lie!”

And my answer made him happy. (Or, at least, made him go away looking thoughtful…)

But was my answer correct?

Do I really think that I’m lying when I’m writing a novel?

Because, in my heart, I believe I tell the truth in my books. I set up a system of magic, and I stick to it rigorously. I create characters, and I let them do what is right for them (which is often extremely inconvenient.) I sometimes have discussions (arguments!) with editors, when I’m fighting for what feels TRUE for that story. I might say “no, we can’t do that, because Yann would never do that, or Helen would never say that.” And my editor knows what I mean – even though these characters are just words on a page, they still have to act consistently, in a way that seems true to the reader.

So there is truth, in that long, extended, totally made up lie.First Aid for Fairies

For example, at the very end of First Aid for Fairies, one of my characters does something extremely brave, essentially sacrificing himself to save his friends from a monster. I set that scene up. I sent the monster after them, I locked the door to block their exit. I created the (entirely fictional!) situation. But I couldn’t have forced the character to make that choice, to do that dangerous and brave thing. That could only happen, and could only feel true within the huge lie of the novel, because he was a character whose loyalty and bravery we already believed in.

And in the novel I’m finishing just now, I have a huge decision to make, about a choice the main character is going to make at the very end of the story. But even though I’m the writer, I’m not going to make that choice. Molly is going to make that choice, because it has to be the choice that is true to her, true to the character that I admit I’ve made up, but who has become real over the course of the three books I’ve written about her.

So, yes, a novel is a lie, but I think it’s an honest lie.

It’s also a lie that a writer puts a lot of effort into making convincing, at exactly the same time as admitting it is a big lie… (Look at this shiny cover! Look at these chapter headings! This is a story! It’s not real!) But we still need our stories to feel real, to feel true.

That’s why I do so much location research, to make my books seem real. Even if I’m writing about magic spells and monsters, I need the book to have convincing settings and characters. I need the lie to feel true, so that you the reader care about the story, care about the characters, and keep reading to find out what happens next. Because while you are reading, it feels real. Even though you know it’s not real. It’s a big lie, and you know it’s a big lie, but you still enjoy it!

If it didn’t feel real, because you know that location and you know the cave doesn’t go that deep into the earth, or the castle door doesn’t look like that, then suddenly you’d be reminded that it was a big lie, which would knock you out of the story.

So that’s why even though a novel is a big lie, and even though I ADMIT it’s a big lie, I still make sure it’s a convincing big lie…

If stories are big lies, then they are big lies that we as writers make as true as we can, and big lies that we as readers seem to need…

Right, I’m off to write another chapter of a great big huge exciting lie… What a brilliant job!

Archive for the 'Research' Category

Why do we love shapeshifters?

I LOVE stories about shapeshifters.

I’ve made up a few shapeshifter stories myself: Rona, the selkie in the Fabled Beast Chronicles, regularly shifts from girl to seal and back again. And Rona was the first character, apart from Helen, who got her own point of view chapters and heroic action, in Storm Singing. Those scenes were some of the most challenging I’ve ever written, because I had to imagine myself as a creature of a completely different shape, with completely different abilities. Also thinking about why and when Rona would choose to shift from one shape to another was fascinating. (It usually came down to the use of hands …)

Most of my shapeshifting knowledge and lore comes from old stories, and a remarkably high percentage of my favourite traditional tales are about shapeshifters. When I collected my favourite Scottish folktales and legends in Breaking the Spell, four out of the ten tales were about shapeshifting of some kind or another.IMG_1920

In Girls, Goddesses and Giants, my collection of heroine stories, my favourite baddie (who is defeated by my favourite heroine) is a shapeshifting demon.

And The Tale of Tam Linn, a retelling of my favourite Scottish fairy tale, illustrated by the magically talented Philip Longson, is also about shapeshifting – a boy who is stolen by the fairies, and then turned into lots of different Scottish animals (stag, wolf, wildcat…) to try to prevent a girl from rescuing him.

Now, I’ve followed the logic of that path, and written a whole collection of shapeshifters.

Serpents & Werewolves is a collection of fifteen of my favourite shapeshifter stories… illustrated by Francesca Greenwood’s stunning silhouettes. There’s a frog, who doesn’t get kissed, and a dragon, who does. There are several werewolves: a goodie werewolf (sort of), some baddie werewolves (definitely), and a werewolf cub, who was great fun to write. There are escaping fish and diving birds and tricky foxes, a very large serpent and a very tiny caterpillar, and all of them change shape as the story goes on…IMG_1947

As with all the collections I write, some of these stories are ones I’ve loved and told for years. But some of them are new discoveries for me, as I researched shapeshifting tales, looking for stories that I wanted to get to know, from lots of different places, about lots of different animals.

And I found, as always, that researching and writing a book threw up more questions than answers:

Why does almost every culture in the world have stories about people changing into animals, and animals changing into people?

Why do we want (or need) to imagine something human in animals, and something animal in humans?

Why do we like to imagine ourselves with the strengths (and weaknesses) of animals?

Is it shapeshifting a superpower or a curse?

At a logical level (because I like my magic logical…) if you shift into something much bigger or much smaller than your human self, where does the extra bulk come from, or go to?

And what animal or bird what would I like to turn into… ?

My fascination with shapeshifting hasn’t ended yet! I’m still asking those questions, and I’m still writing about shapeshifters…

I can’t give too much away just yet, but in the trilogy of novels I’m working on, the main character is a slightly reluctant shapeshifter… So right now I am having great fun writing about creatures much smaller and much faster than I usually do.

So, there are more shapeshifters to come!

And if you want a wee taste of the stories in Serpents and Werewolves, here is a sample put online by my publishers….


Archive for the 'Research' Category

The nocturnal writer

I can’t stop writing for Christmas. Not just because I have a huge number of deadlines (I do! I have a picture book text and a collection of shapeshifter stories due in January, and a collection of Viking stories due in February, and an entire novel to write before the summer) but because once I am deep into a story, I have to keep writing it.

I have to live inside a story, keep it at the front of my head, move it forward every day. And to do that properly I can’t take a break from it. Days off here and there are fine. But not a three week break over Christmas. Picking it all back up in January once the schools are back would be like starting the book all over again, trying to remember the feel and the excitement and the characters’ voices and the rules of that particular magical world, after a prolonged holiday from it. I have returned to novels after a long break before, but it’s time-consuming getting back into the story and I don’t have time to waste this coming year.

Therefore, I can’t stop writing for Christmas.

But everyone else in my family is on now holiday.

So I’m becoming a nocturnal writer.

I try to do most of my writing during the day, during daylight hours. Full writing days at home if I can manage it, or nice big chunks of writing when I’m travelling to do author events. But I’ve always written at night as well. First Aid for Fairiesfabled beast chronicles First Aid was mostly written at night when my kids were asleep. But they were much younger then, so they were asleep by about 8 o’clock at night. Now, writing at night often means writing at midnight. I still do that, a couple of times a week, to meet deadlines, and to keep the stories alive in my head.

But if I want to meet these early 2015 deadlines and if I want to keep this novel moving forward at pace (one of my main characters has just revealed a very dark secret, and I want to keep that tension building!) then I’m going to have to become a truly nocturnal writer.

I’m going to stay up later than everyone else each night, and write for at least an hour. That’s probably when I’ll do the final research and final edits for the manuscripts which are due to be submitted next month. And I’m going to set my alarm very early every dark cold morning, and get up and write for a couple of hours before anyone else in the house is awake. That’s definitely when I’ll keep the novel rattling on.

And of course, during the day, I’ll be a mum. Delivering Christmas cards, doing last minute shopping, wrapping Christmas presents, baking, visiting family and friends, playing card games, going for walks, having fun with my kids. Maybe even lying on the couch reading the books I hope I’m going to find under the tree…

But at night and in the morning, I’ll be writing. I have to, and I want to. Because the stories don’t ever seem to sleep!

(And, yes, I do know that I need to sleep. But 5 or 6 hours a night is usually enough for me…)

PS – I’ve just realised that sounds like I’m not actually going to take a break at all! Which would be daft and unhealthy and not help my creative process in the slightest. I am taking a break over Christmas. Because the most tiring thing I do as a writer is not writing, it’s travelling all over the country to talk to kids about stories. (I love it, but it can be tiring!) And I’m not doing that for the next few weeks. Just time with my family during the day and time with my stories at night. That will feel like a holiday. Hope you all have a lovely relaxing break too!

Archive for the 'Research' Category

Researching adventures at the right time of year

When I write adventures set in the Scottish landscape, I always research the place I’m writing about. Caves, mountains, castles, cliffs, rivers, seashores, mazes – I’ve visited them all, to make sure that I’m describing the atmosphere and the location correctly in the book. I do this when it’s a real place (Traquair Maze, Dunvegan Castle, Smoo Cave) or when it’s an invented place (Dorry Shee forest, the village of Clovenshaws, the campsite at Taltomie, the Keystone Peak.) And yes, I know, I can’t visit an imaginary place, but I visit places like it and I create patchwork of all of them.
So, I always visit the locations. If you live there or if you go there on holiday, and you’ve read one of my books, you should be able to recognise the location, and feel like the story could really happen there.
But the one thing I hardly ever do is visit the location at the right time of year. I always seem to be writing the novel urgently at one time of the year even though the story is set at another time of year, or else I can only get to the other end of the country to research during the school holidays but the story is set in term time…
I researched the caves and cliffs of Storm Singing, which is set in the autumn, in February (and that is a COLD time of year to be on the Sutherland coast…) I researched the forests and islands of Wolf Notes, which is set in the spring, in the autumn. I researched the waterfall scene in Maze Running, which is set in the spring, on Christmas Eve. That was cold too. I researched the mountains of Rocking Horse War, which is set in the summer (so that my characters didn’t freeze) in the late autumn, when my family and I nearly did freeze.
And for First Aid for Fairies, which is set in midwinter, we visited the Ring of Brodgar in the summer holidays. Which sounds like it might be the only time I didn’t make my family shiver while researching a novel, but actually, it was windy and cold in Orkney that day and we had to shelter behind the stones to eat our sandwiches…
However, despite the shivers and the extra gloves, researching at the wrong time of year is fine for paths, rocks, walls, caves and castles, which are there all year round. But it’s not ideal for local plants, flowers and trees, which change with the seasons.
In the adventure I’m writing right now, trees are very important to one of my characters, so I really wanted to discover exactly what the trees in the right area of Scotland are like at exactly the right time of year.
Both books I’m writing this month – the teen thriller I’m editing and the adventure book I’m about a quarter of the way through writing – are set in October. And this IS October. So I’m really lucky that when I’m checking what time it gets dark in Edinburgh next week, which is when the thriller is set, I’ll just be able to look out of my window. And when I wanted to know what a birch wood in Speyside looks like during the tattie holidays, I just went up last week, and took a few photos and a lot of notes (in the rain and wind, obviously!)
So, for the first time, these books will be researched, at least partly, in not just the right season, not just the right month, but even the right week! Which I hope will make the stories even more convincing. Even if all my notebooks are a bit soggy…
Now, I’ve done the research, I’d better get on with writing the adventure!

Meg's Widd, at exactly the right time of year!

Meg’s Widd, at exactly the right time of year!

A mysterious cave, at exactly the right time of year! (And it was raining, which is the best weather for the monster who might live here...)

A mysterious cave, at exactly the right time of year! (And it was raining, which is the best weather for the monster who might live here…)

Archive for the 'Research' Category

What is it about wolves?

I’ve now written six books with wolves inside, five of which have a wolf on the cover, and two of which even have a wolf in the title.
Just last week, the wolfiest book of all was published. The Hungry Wolf is a retelling of all the best ‘daft wolf tries to eat clever lamb’ stories I could find, stunningly illustrated by Melanie Williamson.
But there are lots of wolves in my other books too:
There’s a helpful wolf in the last story in Girls, Goddesses and Giants, my recent collection of heroine stories.
There’s a smooth-talking sharp-toothed wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
Sylvie, the rather snappy wolf girl, appears in both Wolf Notes, the second novel in the First Aid series, and Maze Running, the last of the series.
And I have a collection of Winter’s Tales coming out later this year (just in time for the first frost and snow!), which has a lovely lemon-yellow wolf on the cover and a howling wolf story inside.
There is no one other creature, apart from possibly 11 year old girls, that I have written about as often as I have written about wolves.
So what is it about wolves that draws me and so many other writers to them? (Many of my favourite kids’ books are about wolves, like Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, or werewolves, like Roy Gill’s Daemon Parallel… To save me listing lots more, here are seven of my favourite wolf books for adults from the Scottish Book Trust website…)
So, what is it about wolves?
There are many theories about people’s fascination with wolves, but I think I know why I’m drawn as a writer to stories about wolves, why I love retelling ancient wolf stories and creating new wolf stories.
Wolves are both cool and scary. They are beautiful creatures, but they are also dangerous. And what’s so handy for writers is that EVERYONE has a reaction to wolves. Wolves are story shorthand for lots of useful, dramatic things. We don’t need to explain wolves. So wolves are a bit like dragons, which are also fascinating, beautiful and very dangerous. Perhaps wolves are the real world equivalent of dragons…
In stories, wolves can be equally convincing and equally useful to the plot as either a friend or an enemy (or, like Sylvie in Wolf Notes, as a mix of both.) So wolves can be tricksters: never entirely trustworthy, just as likely to be a baddie as a goodie, and very likely to move the story in unpredictable ways. That’s why one of my favourite mythical wolves is Fenrir, the son of Viking trickster god Loki.
One of the reasons I tell so many wolf stories is that so many cultures tell wolf stories. Almost every part of the world has had wolves as a main predator at some time, so wolves appear in lots of stories. This is another similarity between wolves and dragons, which are also an almost universal story baddie. (I know Irish dragon stories and Chinese dragon stories, Greek dragon stories and Scandinavian dragon stories; but I also know native American wolf stories and Viking wolf stories, Scottish wolf stories and Sanskrit wolf stories.) It is fascinating to see how the role and character of the wolf changes across cultures: almost always a baddie in Europe, often a wise goodie in native American culture.
I have a personal reason for feeling strongly about wolf stories too. I used to be scared of dogs, ‘cross the road if a dog was walking towards me on a lead’ type scared. Then I spent months researching wolves’ social organisation and intelligence for Wolf Notes. Once I understood a bit about wolves, I suddenly realised that I understood a bit about dogs too – mainly that they weren’t remotely interested in me because I was neither another dog nor their owner / pack leader – so I stopped being scared of them. Which just shows that writing books about wolves can change your life.
So, now I have six wolf books on my shelves. I wonder what wolf I will write next…
What animal are you particularly drawn to writing (or reading) about, and do you know why?

a pack of wolves

a pack of wolves

Archive for the 'Research' Category

What Lari Wrote Next…

I have a bit of a traffic jam of books waiting to be published over this summer and autumn.
It looks like I’ve been writing a lot of myths, legends and magic this year, but in fact, THIS year I’ve mostly been writing novels. It was last year and the year before that I was researching and writing lots of myths and legends, but some books take a while to be edited and illustrated. However, I think they are all very much worth waiting for.
So here are the books being published in 2013, and possibly a hint about what’s coming up in 2014:

Girls, Goddesses and Giants: Tales of Heroines from Around the World (A&C Black, July 2013)
This is my first ever collection of myths and legends, and I’m so proud of it. I have always been slightly disappointed that so many really exciting adventure stories are about boys, so I’ve spent years searching for authentic old stories with girls who fight their own battles. And now here are all my favourite heroines gathered together in one book! There is a Japanese girl who meets a sea monster, a Viking warrior who braves ghosts, a Hindu goddess with 10 arms, a Sumerian goddess who meets 52 monsters in one journey, and an early version of Little Red Riding Hood which I’m sure will surprise you! This book is illustrated beautifully by Francesca Greenwood.

Masha and the Bear
& The Hungry Wolf (Barefoot Books, August 2013)
The third and fourth books in the Animal Stories series I’ve written for Barefoot Books, short chapter books retelling traditional tales from around the world, designed for newly independent readers. Melanie Williamson’s amazing pictures bring these stories to life beautifully.
Animal Stories 4 Masha and the Bear_UKPB_FC_RBG_72dpi

Masha and the Bear is about a little girl who gets lost in the forest, then gets trapped by a bear in a cave. But she doesn’t need a woodcutter or hunter to save her, she gets home all on her own using brains and baking skills!
J1212089 Cover.pdf, page 1 @ Preflight

The Hungry Wolf is about a wolf who wants to eat a little lamb, and about all the ways the tricky little lamb fools the wolf and saves herself. It’s a combination of many of my favourite trickster tales, and was great fun to write!

Breaking The Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland (Frances Lincoln, September 2013)
I am so excited about this book – it’s a collection of all my favourite Scottish stories, illustrated by the fabulous Cate James. There are selkies, kelpies and fairies, but also witches, warriors, riddles and baby monsters. There are stories you might know, and stories I’m sure you’ll never have heard before, and one story that comes directly from my own family’s lore. And you might even recognise where the inspiration for some of my novels comes from…


The Magic Word (Picture Kelpies, September 2013)
Not a retelling! This is an original picture book, my only fiction of the year. The Magic Word is about a little girl who can’t be bothered to write her birthday thank you letters, and tries to take some unusual short cuts. The pictures by Claire Keay are really magical, and I’m very much looking forward to reading this to little ones!

The Magic Word cover

The Magic Word cover

Winter Tales: Winter Stories from Around the World (A&C Black, October 2013)
Another collection illustrated by the atmospheric silhouettes of Francesca Greenwood – this time a collection of winter tales. I’ve included some of the oldest and most exciting myths explaining the cycle of the seasons (yes, Persephone is in there, but so are some gods and goddesses you might not have met before) and also lots of folklore and fables about snow, polar bears and wolves from all over the world. I was particularly pleased to find winter tales from the southern hemisphere as well as the north. I hope it will be ideal for sharing stories by a warm fire with snow falling outside!
And this is the one book published in 2013 that I did write this year (earlier on, in that very long winter!) so I don’t have a finished cover to show you yet! But I’m hoping for a wolf…

And next year? Floris Books are bringing out the first three novels in their new young adult list, TeenKelpies, and I’m delighted to say that my next novel will be one of them!
And after that? Well, I’m currently writing a fantasy adventure set in the northeast of Scotland, so if you enjoyed the First Aid for Fairies series, you might want to read this adventure too…

Archive for the 'Research' Category

This weekend’s difficult writing questions

Here’s the list of questions I’ve been asking myself over the weekend:
Is it true nothing can grow under a holly tree?
Do polar bears roar?
Do reindeer trot?
What do trolls smell like?
When did the Maori first arrive in Aotearoa?
How many pomegranate seeds did Persephone eat?
Do Venezuelans wear ponchos?
What colour are an ibis’s legs?
Do German children put spiders on their Christmas trees?
What was Anat the goddess of?
Where is Finnmark?
Can you make an arrow from dragon tendon?
I’ve been researching all of these questions in order to be sure that the stories I’m retelling for a myth and folklore collection are as accurate and realistic as any book with talking reindeer and warty trolls can ever be. (It’s a collection of winter tales, hence the polar bears and the Christmas trees.)
And I found answers to all of them.
That’s the reason writers love the internet. You can just type in ‘reindeer trot’ or ‘polar bear roar’ and a few clicks later, you have an answer. But the reason writers get annoyed by the internet is that you are then tempted to watch reindeer trotting, or listen to polar bears roaring, and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour of writing time…
So I tend to put together a whole list of questions (like the list above) and do them all at once when I need a break from writing or editing. Then I can concentrate on ticking them off one by one, rather than getting distracted by any particular question.
This works in theory. Though roaring polar bears are quite hard to ignore…
But now that the winter tales book is drafted, checked and sent to my editor, I need something else to write.
So, now for the biggest question of all:
What am I writing next?
The answer is I’M WRITING A NOVEL and I’m starting now. Apart from being fairly sure it doesn’t have any trolls, reindeer or polar bears in it, I can’t tell you what it’s about. But I can tell you that I’m very excited about it….